Thursday, January 5, 2012

Interview: Grant Writer

It's been a while since I did an informational interview, I should do them more often.  Talking with people about why they love their job makes me feel optimistic, and every job hunt could use a bit of that.  So here is the context, as you know, I need a job.  While getting a full time permanent job has not come easy, finding small contract editing work (of manuscripts and educational texts) or some related writing seems to have come up fairly often.  I've been relatively passive about this, but I wanted to give this idea a fair shake, could I (should I?) make a career of reading and writing?

So I had to know, was she working week to week on contracts like me?  Well, no.  Although she had started doing that, she now works as an off-site contractor for a firm that sends her clients who need various levels of technical and administrative help.  She said this sometimes means she is literally writing their grants, and sometimes this means she is just convincing a disparate group of PIs to stick to their writing deadlines.  Depending on the client, this may feel like she is making the best use of her background, synthesizing complex data into an easily understandable package, and other times, this might just feel like she is the secretary (but she did admit the administrative work pays better).

Speaking of pay, she makes more than she did as a post-doc, and figures she'll continue to make significantly more than her husband (a post-doc) for a while. 

The contract for this is novel to me, it's the antithesis of a non-compete. She signs up for a 3-6 month contract with her employer.  They have renewed her contract consistently for 4 years now, so she has confidence that this is fairly permanent work.  However, for tax reasons (and as part of this contract), she must take other contracts, to prove that she does not have a sole employer who ought to pay her taxes for her.  She said she normally works 40 hours a week, but certainly goes through periods of working 80-90 hours a week, as a result of having to juggle multiple contracts. 

So how does a person get into this?  She recommended to get started, work with a recruiter.  Alternatively, there are writing firms that have stables of writers for regulatory/technical/medical writing, like Synchrogenix.  Another option is to subscribe to job lists, like the Hitt list (available here).  And this last website brings up some other interesting resources.  Medical writers are certainly in demand these days, and while having a PhD is great preparation for this career, to help with the transition, Emma Hitt offers some short courses and workshops on running a med writing business, or med writing.  Biotech Ink Insider is another resource for those in the field. The American Medical Writers Association also offers some workshops/short courses in similar subjects.  Again, these aren't essential certifications, but if you are looking for a way to show on your CV that you are serious about this transition or just want to build your own confidence this might be a good route.  I'd be very interested to hear from someone who has taken one of these courses to see what they think.

I recently joined the Council of Science Editors group on LinkedIn, and in one of those discussions these additional resources were listed.  Exciting, right?  Doesn't it make you think you could take on a whole new career??
National Association of Science Writers (
National Writers Union (
Society for Technical Communication (
Health Sciences Communication Association (
Bay Area Editors' Forum (
American Copy Editors Society (


  1. Also try the Northwest Science Writers Association. Next week is their big annual meeting with lots of local peeps attending. A great place to meet people. You find all types of writers there. Check their website

  2. Thanks, Melissa, I will check that out!